Making Time

Demanding Yoga Mat is demanding
                                                       Demanding Yoga Mat is demanding

There is a yoga mat calling my name. There is also a nearly completed manuscript, a publishing deadline, a birthday for an ever growing kid/adult in my house, and mountains of housework calling my name.
I considered changing my name to “Hey” just to make things easier. or “Bass Fishing in the United States” to make things more difficult. In the end I chose to set everything on a schedule of sorts. My schedule may consist of many ishes. like 9-ish, 10-ish, etc. but I get points for a schedule right?
I know meditation and yoga are good for my overall thinking and mood. I also know that if I don’t do things, they don’t get done. So for now the Yoga mat is begging, the birthday boy gets priority, and the rest is still on a deadline I didn’t create.
I am in the process of making time, finding twenty minutes to meditate is not difficult and I am deluding myself to think otherwise. I will become the master of my time management. Migraines or not, things have to be completed. So for now I will include a picture of the yoga mat while it is still yelling, and a second picture of the less demanding but oh so good salt water taffy.

Sweet innocent Taffy
                                                                              Sweet innocent Taffy
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Being with a writer

Being married to a writer is not easy. For supplemental evidence look-up the words divorce and author in google. There is one thing that might help though. Understanding.
1. Not everything is about you, not everything is about your writing spouse/significant other. More times than not the writer is stuck in What if mode, observing a peculiar person or group of people, or even looking at a building sideways to see it in a different way.

2. When an idea strikes, it is like trying to ignore hot coals on your feet. More than once I have had to drop otherwise important grownup things to write something down.

3. You will never be the only other person in the room. Writers are often people who over analyze everything. Situations that would normally be peaceful conversations turn into long pauses between sentences, breaks from eye contact, and the widening of the eye’s related to your writer being somewhere else entirely. “What would this character do in this situation?”

4. You are the reason we are able to express ourselves this way. Writing when you are totally alone is torment. There really is nothing better than hearing about that troublesome customer for the fourth time when the world is consumed with drama, violence, or stress.

5. We fall into our stories. It is your job to help us know when to pull back. My wife put up with me falling into a story for 29 hours straight. I literally only got out of my chair long enough to use the restroom. Falling into our stories isn’t so bad though. The best things I have written were from a long trip into the characters world.

6. We keep weird hours. More than once, I have woke up and grabbed my notebook and began writing as something was clarified when my mind stripped away the school field trips, laundry, dishes, and other household chores.

7. We love you more than you will ever know. It is funny that someone who makes their living from words, suffers from the inability to express them verbally.

8. We have little time for the suck tube. If we had time to find out why one of those fake celebrities is getting divorced again, we wouldn’t have time to write. The TV really is one of the most horrible things in the USA for writers. You can change the channel five times and find the same plot with different characters on very different genre’s of TV show. We are more interested in a new idea from a book, quotes and ideas from our brothers and sisters making the music that fuels the mood of the story, and time spent people watching. I am sad to say to our beloved’s, but you too are people. We notice how upset you get when a known ego-centric jack monkey does exactly what you would expect them too.

9. There is a fine line between the unwritten writer and madness. The feeling that this story must come out isn’t some sort of platitude. It really must come out.

10. We can, and often will, lose a great story due to not being able to write it down. People may look at us funny as we take a notebook and pen on a date, stop in the middle of the mall to scribble down something important we just realized that may flesh out our character more, or write and walk at the same time. (to everyone I have bumped into this way, I am truly sorry)

In the end, if you take nothing away from this. Hot coals. It really is that imperative for us to express our ideas.

Help is everywhere, just ask…

Time for help
                            Time for help

Take it where you can get it.
I have been stuck in a particular series. The biggest problem was the flashback element that was pivotal for the main character and for the storyline. The story dealt with witches and that made the flashback options wide open but I was stuck with what could have been a never-ending bog instead of the murky middle.

I mentioned it casually to my sixteen year old who is also a writer. I did it more out of frustration than asking a question. He not only offered the perfect solution, but did it out of reflex.

I have a lot to teach my son about the craft of writing, but I also have as much to learn from him. I don’t need some ninety year old curmudgeon to guide me, not when I have superteen on my side.
Where did you get help from an unsuspected source?

Research and respect

Remove your shoes
Remove your shoes

Most of the time, I find gathering my source material is easy. Google is my friend and Google is capable of so much. The thing it can’t replace, is a human’s perception when gathering the minutia that makes your scene pop from the page. You want something that will create an image in the readers mind, but you also want to remain faithful to the people who have witnessed or live it as well.
I have been on the hunt for Temples (cue Indiana Jones montage) to include in my multi-faith story. Tennessee is definitely not the place to search for a Taoist temple. Surprising though, there is a glorious Buddhist Temple in Nashville that I plan to visit with a large blank book and a fountain pen filled to the rim.

Permission is another thing. I have been turned down by the local Catholic church for a tour unless I swear to convert. Luckily none of the other places I have visited have needed such a commitment. This is the one time my honesty has hurt me. I don’t have the capacity to lie to them and say I am thinking of converting just for some pictures and first hand thoughts.
Something I did pick up, was to read through all customs related to the place you are visiting. Some require shoes removed. Some expect you to wash your feet in the supplied sinks before hand. Always look up the customs before venturing out. You don’t want to be a source of disdain and if you ever need to return for something, a great impression as a humble and trustworthy guest go a long way.
If they ban pictures inside the Temple/Synogogue/Shrine/Church then be sure to add as much detail to your notes as possible. Always be respectful with your descriptions and seek to view as a non-judgmental bystander.

Today I am venturing out to a multi-denominational church in order to get some ideas of what is important to their culture and beliefs as well as their traditional dress and non-traditional dress. Plan to spend some time as well. Many that I have met are excited to share their beliefs and ways to an outsider. This may take the form of a few passages from their religious teachings, to one who wanted to tell me all about the indiscretions of Mrs. Herbert and her wanton ways with so many of the married men.
I have found that many of today’s religions are fairly lax about street clothes even if most view the wearing of shoes as a horrible embarrassment. I therefore wear a button down shirt and Khaki’s at the minimum. I again base my dress from their custom.
In the end, do your homework before doing your research. It will pay dividends you may not comprehend. It also allows the tour giver (who is almost always dropping something important to accommodate you) a chance to focus on teaching rather than feeling disparaged by your lack of respect and grace.

Finally, I understand being broke. I understand that some people hate to support a religion they do not follow. I still make sure that I am capable of leaving an offering for any that I visit as my way of show appreciation for their time as well as my respect for their beliefs.

Being a good Catholic while at a church is not necessary. Being a good human is.

Writing in New Bohemia

There is a major disconnect in the writer world. Drugs and drinking are held up like some sort of magic ladder to becoming famous. Growing up you are told the funny side of a famous old writer who wrote a masterpiece while on LSD. I see writers still trying to emulate this. There really is another way.

I found a magic fountain, it isn’t a new one, it was just new to me. I began doing Yoga and Meditation this summer. I still feel the writer pains, I still feel the demoralization of critics, trolls, and well meaning advice. The magic comes in by choosing to change my natural default setting. When I meditate I work on my self, not on the forces I can’t control. People are going to hate what I write. I can’t change that. Instead I work with what I can. I look at what they say, break it down to what they are really saying between the curses. Then I meditate or do yoga depending on how much I am worked up.

Writing comes from emotions. Sometimes, this leads to something beautiful. Even the happiest stories often come from a place of pain and wishing. The writer loses someone close to them. They write a story of redemption where their character defeats the odds that took the person they loved. The reader is overjoyed with the story of hope. They may never know the real story that is behind it. Most readers won’t even care.

Letting life happen, however it will, isn’t easy but it is simple. The only pain that reach you, is the one you let in. Things will happen. People will betray you. Acceptance is key. You need to let things come. How you deal with them is the only way they really can affect you. Write from your heart, write from your pain, write from any emotion that pushes you. Don’t let the pain become you, leave it on the page. No one will buy your story of every character dying, unless you magically became Shakespeare. There is too much perceived and real pain in the world. We as writers have a duty to take our pain and finding the outside perspective to find some kind of silver lining. The reader deserves to feel better by the end of the stories we write.

Putting Yoga and meditation into my life changed my writing. It has created a new atmosphere. I am able to write more prolifically. I have even found time to sleep again after years of insomnia. There is a reason so many writers are called Bohemian. It isn’t about becoming a poor artist. It is about the mind of the artist taking life’s pain and transforming it into a positive energy.

I am not sharing this because I am all-knowing. I am not an expert. I am only sharing what works for me.

Disconnect

Disconnect

Disconnect
                          Shhhhhh

Turn off your phone. This sounds like a simple thing to do. Yet so many of us allow social everything invade our already engaged brains. I don’t mean turn the ringer down, I mean turn it off! I turned off my phone and my kindle (which annoyingly announces every time someone poops on Facebook) Down time is the hallmark of a good writing environment.

I have 3 children, they all have important needs every fifteen minutes. I have a beautiful wife, who loves to talk about what celebrity did what or whom. I hang a sign on the refrigerator, I hang a sign next to my office. Sadly my office has no door so that doesn’t help. Over time though they have all learned that creative time is important for my good mood as much as anything else. Allow yourself to disconnect for a while. You will be thankful you did and stand back and be amazed at what you did all by yourself.

Retaining Your Mental Faculties

My Mental Breaks
Sylvester the Party Cat

Sometimes, things run like ice on a hotplate. What do you do when they aren’t?

I have been writing at least five days a week for a year straight. I wasn’t aware this was something unusual. A friend who is starting NaNoWriMo for the first time asked how I managed to not fall off pace. I thought about it for a while before answering her. I hadn’t really thought about falling off pace. I just saw what I wanted to do and did it.

I realized after some reflection that I had built in breaks and helpful mental habits that kept me sane through this process. I play with the cat every day, and as you can see he is a real party animal. I play with the kids when they aren’t being teenagers full of the indignation of youth. I meditate every day to clear my head because it is good for my blood pressure. Most importantly, I actually talk to my wife. Not just about how her day was, but how she is feeling, what funny thing did she see at work, What made her day good/bad, etc.

Does this mean I am perfect? Not by a long shot. I get distracted by oh shiny internets all the time. I have just programmed myself to shut all of my devices off at the same time every night to write. If during my writing I have to look something up, I have a tab on my desktop that only opens duckduckgo.com so I am not blasted with messages from the social media I love so much.

All of these things started as something different. The single tab was originally just a bookmark I threw on my desktop for no particular reason. The cat has been my sparring partner ever since we rescued him. The meditation was to lower my blood pressure without so many medicines. Somehow all of the things fell together into a lucky, perfect storm for writing. So basically I am sharing my good fortune.

During NaNoWriMo I will not actively be participating this year, but I am going to take several of my friends struggling to find the time to write between house chores, kids, spouses, work, and every other thing that tends to demand their attention. I will be helping them with whatever works for them and sharing these same things with them. Write when you can, play when you need a break, just don’t let the breaks become your days. I wish everyone participating in this great month of writing a high word count, many met goals, and really fun characters to play with.

At the end of the day, it should be about if you are pleased with your outcome. If not make small changes. Large changes fall away, small ones are easier to stick with.

Charles Colp

Reading for Writers

Charles Colp
Reading for Writers

Let’s face it, most of us began as super fans of one writer or another. We devoured everything they wrote. We waited in lines to get the latest book so we could be the first to read the next installment. Whatever the case may be, we are readers first. The problem with this method of teaching ourselves to write, is we often feed our brains from the same trough as millions of other writers. Whether it be the next Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling.

The hardest thing to do is reminding yourself there are so many other styles, so many other genres, so many other humans that write well. Many of my friends suffer through the writing blinders they have imposed on themselves. This is especially true of male readers who refuse to read a romance novel. The lack of exposure to this other world of writing a love scene is lost on them. It shows, even in well known published authors. The male love scene is so often about what it feels like, what it looks like, what it does for them. There are very few male writers willing to write about how the scenario makes their character feel. I am not a psychologist, but I am willing to bet it has something to do with perceptions and gender insecurities. Men aren’t supposed to feel more than four or five emotions and rarely are those emotions allowed to conflict or even cohabitate during a single scene.

I know writing this, half of my readers are scoffing at the idea. Their love scenes are different. Their values are far superior to the hindbrain activity and are of an elevated nature. The idea that there is something wrong with describing a woman’s breast as anything more than the direct object of desire would not even register.

I am not more elevated than my peers, I am not better in anyway. I am however aware that this exists. There is a simple test for any reader to see the other side of things. Read a novel written by the opposite sex, in a genre you would have never read, and judge the differences. Not whether they are good or bad, but whether they convey a different feeling. Two writers can write about deep passion and even the exact same scene, but if it was directly pointed out, very rarely would a reader realize they were both describing the same act. A characters emotions are key and women are just as human as men. Writing the damsel in distress scenario takes on a very different meaning when she was just about to pick the lock herself instead of pining for a big strong man to save her. I have never met a woman that wouldn’t fight and figure out a way to save herself.

In the interest of stopping the cardboard cutout of women in novels versus the fully fleshed out 3-D male superhero. Remember we are all members of the same human race. We just might approach problems and pleasure from a different viewpoint.

When You Write Something Well

Charles Colp
When You Write Something Well

I used to ask the question “How do I know when I have written something really well?” I was lost and it seemed all of the people that I looked up to for guidance couldn’t answer that question. Today I stumbled on not just the answer for me, but also the reason why none of my teachers could answer that question. 

I was re-reading last weeks updates to my story, so I could get back in the groove, after taking an uncharacteristic weekend off from writing. I was half-way through the weeks work, when I caught myself laughing out loud to something one of my characters said. I have explained before, in another post, that I do create the characters but after that, I let them react naturally to their situation, environment, and history. That is why I rarely take credit for something witty my characters say, because I feel like it is exactly how that person would have reacted. 

I finally got the feeling that has alluded me for so long. I was able to temporarily live in that world with them. I was able to feel the confusion one of my characters must have been going through. I felt my work as I read it. It is one of the greatest feelings as a writer. 

When I told my wife about my a-ha moment, she looked at me as if I were slow. My wife is an amazing artist and I marvel at how effortless she makes it look to paint a scene, draw a person, sketch a thought, or even capture a feeling on canvas. If I had asked an artist, my epiphany would probably not have shocked me as much at three A.M. This is common knowledge for them, and taught on day one.

I took this new information and went back to read some old work from my teacher’s. It didn’t take long for me to realize not only is the definition of “writing well” fluid, it is subjective. The more I read, the more sad I became. I couldn’t find the spark in any of their writings. They used perfect form, a wide scope of imagery and base description, and interestingly complex plots. All of this perfection, and yet, the stories were flat. Many of the characters felt ramrodded into place to provide the perfect foil for the main character to get an idea across. In the end, the sad truth of why they couldn’t answer me was that they didn’t know either. 

I know each of them could pick the bones clean from anything I write, and I welcome them to do it. I am terrible at using correct punctuation, using tropes from time to time, and references only a few would get. So I will never be an editor. Instead I will create, and let my characters do what they must.